MAD Magazine, as we used to know it, is gone. However, what we still have is to be treasured. Due to a number of factors, it just became unsustainable to maintain the magazine. So, the idea now is to keep to a pared-down schedule that showcases various work from the past. It leaves room for some exceptions too like the amazing new cover art by visionary cartoonist Jim Woodring for the current issue. I just got my copy in the mail as part of my subscription. You can too by visiting MAD Magazine.
Alfred E. Neuman is the fictitious mascot and cover boy of MAD. Alfred’s first appearance was on a 1954 MAD paperback collection and on the actual magazine starting with Mad #21 (March 1955). Woodring pays homage to Alfred and all things MAD by having Alfred in the role of Zoltan the fortune teller. The fortune is a wry reference to MAD’s legendary fold-in back cover gags: “The Secret to Longevity is Not Folding In.” And, most fitting of all, is a 100th happy birthday wish to one of MAD’s greatest cartoonists: Al Jaffee, a regular contributor to the magazine for 65 years, the longest run ever, including his trademark feature, the Mad Fold-in.
Back in December of last year, Jim Woodring let his friends on social media know just what he thought about getting to do a MAD Magazine cover:
“If anyone in a position to know had told me when I was a boy that I would one day do a cover for MAD magazine I would have died of self-satisfaction right on the spot. Issue #19, due out March 2021 from DC comics.”
Each issue of MAD is thoughtfully curated following a theme. The theme for this current issue is The Future:
MAD #19 – MAD PREDICTS THE FUTURE
Gaze into the wonders of tomorrow, courtesy of yesterday’s MAD! It’s our far-flung future issue, in which we look back at the shape of things to come, including parodies of time traveling sci-fi flicks “Back to the Future” and “A.I. Artificial Intelligence.” Plus, MAD examines prognosticators like astrology, palm reading, and, just for good measure, a little MAD E.S.P with birthday boy Al Jaffee for his 100th year on this planet, and some new outta this world art by Tom Richmond! We predict there will be a new Fold-In by Johnny Sampson too! Materializing in stores APR. 13th!
Get your copy by visiting MAD Magazine right here.
For those of you who follow the independent comics scene, you know that comic arts festivals are its lifeblood. And Short Run is essential. If you are in Seattle, come down to see Short Run at Fisher Pavilion in Seattle Center on Halloween. The event is free and runs from 11 am -6 pm.
Be sure to keep up with Short Run as they will have other events planned beginning on Wednesday, October 28th. And, keep in mind that since this is taking place on Halloween, there will be plenty of treats for the kids.
I am thrilled to be a part of Short Run and I am excited to join in on all the fun. There will be more updates as we get closer to the main event and there will be a recap once the festivities have wrapped up for another year. For now, mark your calendar and plan on joining us at Short Run.
I am heading out to Comic-Con International in San Diego this year and this is the year that we take things to a new level. With your support, we can do some exciting new things here at Comics Grinder and beyond. You can check out the new campaign, “Support A Comics Reviewer and Creator,” over at GoFundMe right here.
If you want a graphic novel you can become hypnotized by, then look no further than Jim Woodring’s latest, “Fran.”
Without question, Jim Woodring is one of our greatest cartoonists. What he creates is right in the thick of what we all dream for in the world of graphic novels. He reaches that ideal of one creator with a singular vision. The world of Frank and Fran is Woodring’s surreal take on early animation.
Whether intended or not, those cartoons from the silent movie era pack a surreal wallop. Woodring has been conjuring up his own special magic for quite some time. He’s at the point where his creations have established, and even surpassed, the object of their homage.
In this latest book, Woodring delivers an extended romp that finds Fran and Frank on their wildest and most dangerous adventure yet.
As Comics Grinder dutifully continues to review books, the pile of options can get high, but never so high as to not acknowledge Jim Woodring and the mighty publishing house that is Fantagraphics Books.
This has been a challenging year for Fantagraphics with the loss of its cofounder, Kim Thompson. But fans love this publisher so much that they provide their support when needed. After a successful Kickstarter campaign that will allow for getting back on track, we can expect Fantagraphics to continue to publish the great work they do. “Fran” is emblematic of that work.
“Short Run” is a gathering of small press in Seattle with some added attractions this year. There’s the main event, the Short Run Small Press Festival at Washington Hall on Saturday, November 30, 2013. But, for those who want more, there’s plenty more starting with an event on November 1. Check out the Short Run website for details here.
As reported by Comics Alliance, Jim Woodring will be unveiling his much anticipated Giant Pen project, a 7-foot-tall steel dip pen. He was able to raise the needed $4,500 and is now set to do a demonstration here in Seattle at the Gage Academy this Sunday, January 9, from 1 to 4 pm.
Here is what he had to say about the project while he was still seeking funds for it:
The dip pen is a bit of fetish item for me (as it is for many pen users). The pen is extremely difficult to master but ultimately allows for an extraordinary degree of expression. The well-constructed pen and ink drawing is a monument to perseverance, requiring tremendous patience and control. I am thrilled by the challenge of creating such drawings in public and introducing new audiences to the allure of the medium. The pen (nib) itself will be approximately 16 inches long, made of steel and fully functional. The holder will be six feet long and made of wood with a metal sleeve insert to hold the pen. Nib and holder will resemble as closely as possible the actual implements on which they are based.
Well, I know where I’ll be this Sunday. Hope to see you there if you can make it out to the show.
Jim Woodring is a legend in the comics art form with a signature style inspired by MAD magazine, Surrealism, Eastern spiritualism and hallucinations of frogs. His latest book, his first full-length graphic novel, “Weathercraft,” published by Fantagraphics, takes us on a Hero’s Journey with one of the most unlikely of heroes and one of Woodring’s long-running characters, Manhog, an unholy union of man and hog. In this interview, we explore Woodring’s own artist’s journey and some of his own preoccupations, real and otherworldly.
Henry Chamberlain: What would you like most to do if you were teaching a class in comics? In the documentary based on your life, “The Lobster and the Liver,” you demonstrate objects in nature, made up objects and hybrid objects. That looked like the start of an awesome comics course.
Jim Woodring: What I would most like to do if I were teaching would be to have just two or three students at a time. I’ve taught cartooning to large groups and it’s been frustrating. Everyone who wants to cartoon has a different idea of what they want to do and they have lots and lots of questions pertaining to their particular goals. Besides, I just don’t know how to teach manga or superhero cartooning. I can give them information on materials and show them inking techniques, teach storytelling concepts like shot rhythm, camera line and page breaks, and a few other things like that, but when it comes to putting these things into practice everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and it’s difficult to come through for everyone in a large class. Besides, a cartoonist has to find his own unique voice if he is going to do anything good, and that means self-invention.
As for my particular vocabulary, hybrid shapes and all that, I don’t think it would be a good idea to try to teach people to do what I do. Let them discover their own approach, it’s best for them and for the world.
HC: In a Comics Journal interview with Gary Groth, you talk about your desire to create pure comics. You explain that Frank comics are wordless in order to retain a timeless quality. And you go on to express a desire to just focus on the symbols. Isn’t there some intrinsic need to keep a narrative? Or do you foresee moving away from it altogether?
JW: Well, I don’t recall what I said in that interview, but I’m guessing I was referring to the desire to use the symbolic language in pictures rather than comics. Nobody would buy non-narrative comics that were composed entirely of symbols that only meant something to me.
HC: What do you consider to be the natural next step beyond art, beyond being an artist?
JW: What I do believe is that whatever it is that gives art its charge is something that ultimately has to be approached through direct means and not through art. Symbolism alerts you to the existence of something that cannot be reached through symbolism, but needs to be sought directly. Personally I feel the need to go from the symbol to the thing symbolized. That would be true whether I was an artist or not.
HC: There are many references in “Weathercraft” to tears in the fabric of reality. Would you share some of your thoughts on the lofty concept of reality?
JW: The notion that the world is not what it seems to us to be is ancient, and the truth of it can be directly perceived. Everything we experience that has name, form, personality, color, all the attributes of reality, comes from within. A car is not a car until we make it a car with our minds. Until then it is a conglomeration of atoms, a colorless, purposeless, nameless, nearly attributeless drop in the vast ocean of entropic mush.
HC: If you could be a fly on the wall, anywhere and in any time period to witness something, when and where would you be?
JW: I would be in Dakshineswar, India, in 1875, sitting at the feet of Sri Ramakrishna.
HC: I’m attracted to drawing rabbits. For you, frogs come up often in your work. There is the story of you dropping out of college after hallucinating frogs. Is there something you might like to say on the subject of frogs?
JW: Oddly enough, I once heard of a person who had such a phobia of frogs that she would leave a house if she heard one croaking nearby. That’s damn peculiar. I think most people find frogs attractive and some of us find them profoundly attractive. They are small, exquisitely pretty and strangely anthropomorphic. They are biologically interesting, metamorphosing as they do, and they even seem to emulate certain aspects of sadhana, sitting still for an hour at a time and singing at dusk.
HC: You’ve spoken about the Middle Eastern architecture of the Brand Library in Glendale, California. That was your refuge as a teenager and that same architecture can be found in your Frank comics. Can you speak a little more about the importance of having anchors like that library in a young life?
JW: Well, think of that beautiful building, full of books on art, in that park setting, a stone’s throw from the house of a deeply confused but artistically inclined youth. It was an oasis, a refuge, a place where my guardian spirits met. I was a bit anti-social and my life was mostly interior and, in Glendale, I knew not a single adult artist aside from my school’s art teachers, who didn’t like me very much and who weren’t doing work I found at all interesting anyway. Brand Library was like an outpost of heaven. I always walked into that building with the sense of entering a temple where God lived on the shelves.
HC: Cartoonists are something of a unique breed. I mean, a true cartoonist is someone who writes and draws. It takes quite a lot to focus and try to master two such imposing art forms. Could you say a little about that? You’ve talked about how you thought you were going to just do art and then you discovered underground comics.
JW: That’s true of many cartoonists, that they originally wanted to be easel artists and then found that cartooning offered them a better vehicle for their artistic ambitions. Justin Green and Bill Griffith come to mind. As a kid, I loved MAD, the old comic book MAD, and the early magazine format issues. Bill Elder, Wallace Wood, Jack Davis, all those guys were huge heroes of mine. I didn’t even try to copy them, I knew it was impossible. I’d drawn cartoons in my own pitiful way since I was a little shaver but I wasn’t very good and I didn’t make very many strips. I don’t think I actually completed a comic until I was in high school, and the few I did then were dismally bad. I was concentrating more on pictures and paintings, also dismally bad. I drew a few comics for money in my 20’s, still dismally bad, but the opportunities were there so I lunged at them, qualified or not. I didn’t begin to draw comics in earnest until 1986, when Gary Groth saw as copy of my self-published autojournal, JIM, and told me that, if I put comics in it, he’d publish it.
HC: Your comic story, “Too Stupid To Live,” is about an amazing mishap as a youth where you were drunk and fell asleep on some train tracks but were saved just moments before a train would have taken your life. Can you retell it?
JW: It’s a true story. My dear old friend, Ted Miller, now unfortunately gone back into the void, and I would take all-night walks, swilling whiskey, smoking cigarettes and talking trash. Sometimes we’d walk along the train tracks that ran north; sometimes we’d hop off and walk back. Anyhow, one night, we were lying on the tracks, with our heads on one rail and our ankles on the other, talking our big talk and reminding ourselves to keep alert for trains. But we both fell asleep and were awakened by the sound of an approaching whistle. Simple pleasures.
HC: Delicate and enchanting things, like pen nibs, need to be cherished and carried on. Considering your project to create the world’s largest pen nib and holder, what can you tell us about the world of pen nibs and any other time honored gems that come to mind? And how is your pen nib project coming along?
JW: I still have dreams about walking into Broad Stationers, on Brand Boulevard in Glendale, which was an old establishment when I was a youth. The shelves were full of enticing objects: a huge variety of pens, pen holders and different kinds of ink, pencil knives (like wooden pencils with a metal blade running through it instead of lead; you cut away the wood and formed the blade with a file to suit your purpose), huge sticks of red sealing wax that smelled like incense for sealing string-wrapped packages, all kinds of paper in neat packages, such as canary manifold and brass ferrules, pantographs, hektographs, listo pencils, china markers, ink eradicator and a lot more that I can’t even begin to remember. It makes me a little sad to know that the world of the old stationery has vanished.
I’m still waiting for funding for the Giant Pen, but in the meantime, I’m working out various ways to overcome the obvious problems of getting the ink to adhere and flow at that scale. I’m sure I can make it work somehow.
HC: We all wish you well, of course. Anything new on the horizon? Can we expect more gallery shows, toys from Presspop and collaborations with Bill Frisell?
JW: Well, I’m working on a new 100-page book, “The Congress of the Animals.” And, of course, I would love to work with Bill again. Something will happen. I can promise you that.